Compassion. Adding my voice to #1000Speak


feet with hearts

I’m naturally empathetic.

A friend recently said that to me, about herself, but I’ve been using it to describe my own ways ever since. I’ve been doing that quite a lot lately, picking up on someone else’s reflection or self-awareness and weaving it into my own view of my world of myself and my ways. And I can’t tell if it’s my own way of questing towards self knowledge in these very busy times when the quiet to truly answer my big questions is limited, or if I am just cheating and copying answers off of the pages of those who are doing the work. As always, it’s probably a little bit of both.

Because the truth is, it turns out that I am naturally empathetic. When I see pain, I can feel it, almost as if it is happening to me. Naturally, it happens most often with my children. When they are sick, I can feel it. And when they feel better I feel the same release, the same relief, almost as if I had just recovered alongside them.

But it happens with others too. When the horrible tragedy happened in Sandy Hook, I spent weeks imagining the parents and their closets full of Christmas gifts that would never be gifted. I couldn’t stop seeing those closets and those parents and I couldn’t stop feeling the dread they must have felt towards opening them and sorting out what to do with those physical things and all of the emotion and sadness and loss. I haven’t been able to get those thoughts out of my head ever since.

It’s painful, this empathy. It hurts. It means that even when all is well in my life and I have no great pain, no great suffering, nothing to be down about at all, I can still find myself in a low just by turning on the news or reading a story. Things go deep with me quickly and they stay there, burrowing into my heart and for so long I’ve feared this makes me weak. Sometimes I feel that not being able to stomach such things or witness another person’s story without being pulled down into it means that I am not strong enough for this world and everything it seems to be these days.

So, for some time now, I’d stopped turning on the news. For some time now, I’d decided that I don’t need to, I shouldn’t, spend so much time feeling other people’s pain. That consuming my thoughts primarily with the happy in my life right this very second is the way I should live my life. I’ve run to the sunshine and the rainbows and the glitter that life with two small children provides in substantial quantities. I’ve run from the things that could bring me down or lead my thoughts down tougher paths.

But today, on a day when 1000 of us, maybe more, are writing about compassion, I’m considering that maybe I’ve been letting myself off easy.

The theme of the school year for my daughter’s school this year is compassion. So I looked it up, compassion being one of those words that we toss around so freely, one of those good qualities that we want to raise and encourage and demonstrate in our daily lives, but one that we probably couldn’t define if pressed. And I learned that compassion literally means to “suffer together.” As Greater Good puts it, compassion is “defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.” It goes beyond empathy, the ability to feel another person’s emotions, to the desire to help.

I have a desire to help. I always have. But in my mad dash away from the pain and the sadness, I’ve been running from the relief and the joy that I can provide. In my fear of the darkness, I’ve also been closing my eyes to the light. There is a flip side to my empathy. A silver lining to the pain. It’s that sometimes, not all of the time but sometimes, I might actually be the one to help relieve the suffering.

The 1000 Voices for Compassion movement started when a couple of writers ached for compassion so deeply that they sought out 1000 people to join them in spreading the word that compassion is still alive. It then inspired more than 1000 blog posts and stories and beautifully woven words. Like this one. And, of course, this.

And it is inspiring me to put my empathy to good use.

To learn more about compassion, to see it out there in the wild world, or simply to join the movement, join the 1000 Voices Facebook group and look around today for compassion.


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